Ghost names killing Ghana softly
The mere mention of ghosts would send many people fleeing for dear life, especially in the Ashanti Region. The Asantes in particular believe that after death, the human soul lingers around in the form of a ghost.
Unknowingly to many Ghanaians, however, "ghosts" have been skimming fat from the national coffers for the past two decades. These so-called "ghosts" have become the most lucrative channel for siphoning state money into private pockets.
Ghanaians only discovered early last year how devastating "ghosts" could be following the government's bold action to put the brakes on the practice of accountants and heads of departments in the public sector inserting "ghost names" into government payrolls or failing to delete names of people who either died, retired, or were dismissed from their ministries, departments, and agencies.
Ordinarily, the salaries of many public servants are not on the high side. However, such ill-gotten money has turned many public servants, especially heads of departments and those in accounting offices, into millionaires overnight.
In response, the Ministry of Finance has computerised payroll systems and is conducting a thorough headcount of all wage earners within all government ministries, agencies, and departments if it is to win the war against ghost names.
In explaining the rational behind these measures, Minister of Finance Yaw Osafo Maafo said something had to be done to curb the practice if the government is to reduce public expenditure, which had been the bane of a prudent fiscal and monetary policy of the last government.
According to Maafo, reckless spending on the part of the previous government, coupled with the prevalence of ghost names on government payrolls, were responsible for the previous government's failure to control inflation.
He said 10 percent of the total amount spent on the salaries of both civil and public servants are lost every month through the insertion of ghost names on workers' payrolls.
A preliminary report of an audit of the accounts of Korlebu Teaching Hospital, Ghana's premier hospital, has revealed that 20 percent of names on the hospital's payroll are ghost names. According to the report, more than US$237,000 (¢166 million) is paid to ghost workers every month. The report said that this represents the tip of the iceberg because investigations are still continuing.
On January 15, 2002, Minister of Education Professor Christopher Ameyaw Akumfi announced that the Ghana Education Service had deleted more than 10,000 ghost names from the payment voucher countrywide since last July.
The headcount of the entire government, which started in early January, was expected to end by the middle of the month, but it has already run into problems.
A source at the Auditor General's Department said that the ghosts would once again reincarnate and "find their way back onto the payroll after the headcount unless their tentacles in the 10 regions of the country are uprooted."
A top official of the Auditor General's office also observed that so long as the payroll continues to be done semi-annually, the syndicate that controls the ghost names will "continue to have things their own way."
To show its seriousness in eradicating this corruption, the Ministry of Finance has opened up a special office equipped with telephone lines to encourage people to provide information about those behind the ghost names saga. The ministry is also offering handsome prizes for those who volunteer information.
Inserting ghost names into the payroll of government institutions has become an entrenched practice in Ghana. Any attempt in the past to combat this form of corruption has run into administrative bottlenecks. At the moment, several of the 110 District Assemblies that receive the District Assemblies Common Fund for rural development are being investigated for misappropriating the funds.
One spectacle example of misappropriation is the case of the Suhum Kraboa-Coalter District Assembly in eastern Ghana. The assembly is grappling with how to recover loans disbursed under the Poverty Alleviation Fund. Astonishingly, the list of beneficiaries prepared by the assembly contained many ghost names, which are said to be at large. District Chief Executive M.K. Mensah, who disclosed this corruption to the press, said the assembly would do everything to trace who is behind ghost recipients and drag them into court to retrieve the money.
In a related development, on January 10, 2002, the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly in Ashanti Region gave 30 organisations a two-week grace period to pay back loans they collected under the poverty alleviation fund or face court action. The Chief Executive of the Assembly, Maxwell Kofi Jumah, explained that, although the time for repayment of the loans became due last year, only three percent of the total had been received.